“I wrote ‘Umami’ shortly after revisiting Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea,'” 32-year-old Klô Pelgag shared in a press release. The track is the third single from the Quebec artist’s Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs. “Umami” alludes to the somber necessity of isolation during periods of reflection, as translated in the second verse: “I spent winter in my bed / They told me, ‘You’ve been dreaming for a year and a half’/ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I was thinking’ and you laughed.” “I felt like I was this old man going into himself, for I don’t know how long,” she shared. “I wanted to return with answers. I knew that life had the potential to be greater than what we’re being offered.”
“Umami” is the perfect breed of pop song, with misleadingly upbeat instrumentals serving as the river on which lyrics weighted with sorrow float. The track is an intimate peek into Pelgag’s introspective and creative mind. There is a 90-second outro on “Umami” that’s disjointed and slow, purposefully bleeding into the chords of the following song on the album, “J’aurai les cheveux longs.” The outro serves almost as a brief intermission in which we’re meant to reflect on what we’ve just heard. “There is a natural transition between the two. I enjoy when songs on an album talk to each other. Each one makes the other more meaningful—they are complementary,” Pelgag shared. “It was very instinctive. It was natural to me that this song about depression would end in confusion, in a blur that echoes the feeling of being lost and depressed.”
Co-produced by Sylvain Deschamps, Klô Pelgag‘s 2020 album, Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs is a francophonic diary of Pelgag’s fears and desires. Not unlike Pelgag’s own depression and burnout, Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs was a beast the artist intended to tackle with humility and grace.
The artist shared beautiful prose written about the album in a press release. In it, she wrote of the origin of the album’s title and what it represented for her: “Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs is a place that exists geographically, but it’s also a place that exists in my mind.” Pelgag would see signs for the island while traveling with her family to Rivière-Ouelle for work. “Every time I saw it, I averted my eyes and shivered in horror. That name terrified me. I imagined a dying village with sad houses, empty streets and creaky chairs still rocking with the memory of deserters.”
Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs‘s core theme is one of facing fear, which is represented throughout the album, both sonically and lyrically. “And now, after many years of overwork, I found myself exactly in that place,” Pelgag wrote. “In the middle of all my anxieties, not knowing anymore who I was, taking hits and hating myself more than anyone else. A thick fog settled in my head, with black, opaque skies. I now lived on this island that I built or imagined on my own.”
This is the artist’s first body of work created entirely separate from her brother, Mathieu, who played a large part in composing, arranging and producing Klô’s first two albums. Pelgag, who had previously expressed fear of composition (or rather, of the unknown), bravely faced many demons with Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs, earning critical acclaim for the album.